Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Kena Upanishad (my complete with end notes)

By whom and toward what rebounds the mind?
By whom is first breath of life enjoined?
By whom is willed these words someone recites?
These eyes and ears of what divinity unites?

The ear of the ear, the mind of the mind,
That voice indeed of the voice is surely the breath of the breath,
The eye of the eye released is wise,
Leaving this world, timeless immediately.

Not there the eye goes, nor speech goes, nor mind.
Not known nor understood, how can it be taught?
Different undoubtedly is that from the known,
likewise from the unknown, beyond.
Thus we’ve heard from our preceptors who that have declared.

Which by speech is not expressed but by which the voice is expressed,
That alone, the Absolute, You, know, and not this which they worship.

Which by the mind is not understood but by which, they say, the mind is understood,
That alone, the Absolute, You, know, and not this which they worship.

Which by the eye is not seen but by which the seeing is seen,
That alone, the Absolute, You, know, and not this which they worship.

Which by the ear is not heard but by which the hearing is heard,
That alone, the Absolute, You, know, and not this which they worship.

Which by the breath is not inhaled but by which the breathing is exhaled,
That alone, the Absolute, You, know, and not this which they worship.

If thought to be fully understood, then little is it really so.
Certainly you may understand the Absolute appearances
Which are shared between you and the gods indeed.
Meditating only yourself is considered truly understood.

Not thinking I fully know
Nor not know, it’s thus known.
Anyone among us that knows, that knows.
Not unknown, it’s thus known.

For whom not conceived, to whom conceived.
Conceived to whom, does not know himself.
Not understood by understanding.
Understood by not understanding.

Self-realization perceived conceives
Your own timelessness surely attending.
By that Self attends the potency.
By its knowledge attends the eternal.

Here, if known, then truth there is.
If not here known, great is the loss.
Being of being discerning, the wise,
departing from this world, eternally becoming.

The Absolute, once, in its divinity, becomes triumphant, and in that Absolute triumph, the gods are made glorious. They perceive as their own, this triumph, as their own, this glory.

That, about them, surely perceives. Before these, indeed, it becomes observable. But they do not recognize what this great spirit is.

They, to fire, spoke: all-knowing of this, discover what this great spirit is. Thus it was so.

That was approached by it, but it was asked: who is this? Fire indeed, I am this, it said: all-knowing, indeed, I am this.

In you who are such, what power is there? Surely this, everything, I can burn, all that’s on the earth, indeed!

In front of it, a piece of straw was placed. This was asked to burn just that. That, it approached, and with all its power, that it was unable to burn. Overcome, from that, it returned. Not this, it was unable to know what this great spirit is therefore.

Then, they, to air, spoke: weaver of this, discover what this great spirit is. Thus it was so.

That was approached by it, but it was asked: who is this? Air indeed, I am this, it said: mother of all, indeed, I am this.

In you who are such, what power is there? Surely this, everything, I can overtake, all that’s on the earth, indeed!

In front of it, a piece of straw was placed. This was asked to take just that. That, it approached, and with all its power, that it was unable to take. Overcome, from that, it returned. Not this, it was unable to know what this great spirit is therefore.

Then, they, to sky, spoke: highest one, discover what this great spirit is. Thus it was so. That was approached by it and thus that disappeared.

It, in that same sky, came upon a woman graced in a light from the highest peaks. To her alone, it said, what is this great spirit therefore?

She, of the Absolute, said, it is through the Absolute This triumphs with great perception. Thus, accordingly, from That alone, it was made to understand the Absolute.

Consequently, these gods are higher than all other spirits, in order: Fire, Air, Sky. They indeed of all of This came close in contact, and, of This, were first to understand the Absolute accordingly.

Consequently, Sky is highest than all other spirits. It indeed of all of This came close in contact, and, of This, was first to understand the Absolute accordingly.

By that foregoing message in which That, the lightning, lights completely in fact, and in a flash closes completely, thus is the divinity of nature.

Then in that which is the self, there is this movement of the mind, resulting in its thinking, remembering its perpetual intention.

That wisdom is That Bower named That Bower, by which attended, it forwards to This its real knowledge, reaching by such a manner here, where all beings are then united.

The Secret Knowledge welcomes by speaking accordingly; uttered to you is The Secret Knowledge of the Absolute; just You, The Secret Knowledge, is speaking therefore.

Before the tempering of passion, the restraint of sensibilities, and the totality of action ultimately stands knowledge, in which all branches of truth are supported.

Anyone indeed who realizes true knowledge dispels all gloom by the infinite light of this widespread height in resting in resting.

translation by aumdada


Here’s my attempt at translating the Kena Upanishad by utilizing three translations: an unattributed one from, another by Sri M in his book entitled ‘Wisdom of the Rishis, and that classic work of Swami Gambhirananda in ‘Eight Upanishads, with the Commentary of Sankaracarya, Vol. I.’

Each utilizes a similar diacritic-free transliteration of Sanskrit which works simply well for this fool. My intent is to borrow freely from them while trying to keep some of the wordplay and rhythm apparent in the original or as I feel fit.

Some indicate these slokas are 4 & 5; some, 5 & 6 (with sloka 3 being 3 & 4).
Most translate the second lines of both of these slokas, which will be repeated again in the next three slokas, a most important mantra of sorts, along the lines of “know that alone to be Brahman,” but translated literally, the line would be: “That alone Brahman you know.” After much meditation on this, a flash of insight realized the three nouns of That, Brahman, and ‘you’ were being equated as one subject to the verb, know! thus: “That alone, the Absolute, you, know”

There's not much to say about these, except they continue the Absolute mantra from the previous two slokas (I've decided, for the time being, that 'you' should be capitalized), as well as the concept that the senses cannot detect it but it detects the senses: awareness. I feel the last sloka involving the breath is particularly wonderful in denoting the breath of life not inhaling (smelling) That, but the breath of life being exhaled by That. Nice ending there.

What appears to be missing in most translations of the Kena is a respect for the play of the Kena. Here, in the first sloka of the second section, there is the first interplay of thinking one fully understands with the fact that little is its actuality. Most translations get this. But the second interplay appears to be glossed over at best. Understanding the appearance of Brahman shared between humans and god is usually given, but playing it against the meditation of only yourself is not.

Some translations of that last line in comparison:

Therefore Brahman, even now, is worthy of your inquiry. ~ Swami Nikhilananda

What is indeed the truth of Brahman you must therefore learn. ~ Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester

… this thou hast to think out. I think It known. ~ Sri Aurobindo

Therefore I think that what thou thinkest to be known is still to be sought after. ~ Swami Paramananda

Continue, therefore, your meditation. ~ Easwaran

These translations are more like interpretations rather than renditions, although Easwaran, I feel, comes closest. But what’s missing is the comparison of those appearances and forms which are shared between people and the gods with that which is only within yourself, and which must be meditated or inquired. This comparison is key. And although it is only one example of the genius of this Upanishad, it is another example of the lack of intelligent translations. I do not claim that title for my version. It is far from that. But for me, it points to that vedantic method pertaining to all these other translations: not this, not this, not this…

Although the words 'student' and 'teacher' do not appear in this text of the Kena, it was translated as such by Shankara, who had his own scholastic motivation for doing so. In turn, the following translators keep to Shankara's additive translation and interpretation: Easwaran, Paramananda, Nikhilananda, and even Yeats (Purohit). Aurobindo and Manchester (Prabhavananda) do not. Just saying.

There are three words here used for the concept of understanding: matam, veda, and vijanatam. Most translators appear to use them all as a single meaning. Sri M chooses ‘know.’ As does Nikhilananda, Manchester/ Prabhavananda, and of course, Gambhirananda via Shankara. On the other hand, Paramananda and Easwaran use a combination of think and know. Only Aurobindo differentiates each meaning: think, know, discern. I lean towards his understanding, but have chosen different translations in ‘conceive’ and ‘understand for 'think' and discern.’ Basically, I didn't agree with the translation: “For whom not thought, to whom thought.” I feel ‘conceived’ offers more depth. As for ‘discern’ rather than ‘understand,’ it’s just a pure sense of appropriate language there. But I could certainly be persuaded by Aurobindo's choice in time.

Also, In this translation, I am continuing to stay with the placement of the words as much as Englishly possible. This is especially noticeable in the translation of the second line. Aurobindo translates this as such: “…he by whom It is thought out, knows It not.” But I find it important that ‘sah’ or ‘him’ come at the end of the line. First, in the first line, that word is not used. Yasya or ‘whom’ is used twice. For me, this indicates that the knowing is not done by the person. Whereas in the second line, the one that wrongly conceives is that 'person.' Moreover, because of that incorrect conception, that person “does not know himself.”

These are the intricacies I feel the Rishi Kena is teasing out in a few carefully chosen words, and exactly what is missing in the other translations.

This was a tough nut. But I feel the clue lay in amritatvam. Amritam alone, without the –tvam (you), means something along the lines of immortality. But add the ‘you’ and you have your own existing immortality. Thus there is a parallel with pratibodha, which most translate as realization, but is seen here importantly as self-realization. In other words, what is seen here is what you always are. Thus the last two lines indicate the process, so to speak. Atman, your Self, provides the potency for it own self-discovery. And its own knowledge is the eternal.

One other note. The word ‘vindate’ is translated by most as ‘attain.’ I’ve used ‘attend’ instead, to emphasize the pre-existing quality not available in the other word. I feel it may be slightly awkward, but I prefer a little clumsiness in the right direction rather than elegance in the wrong one.

The tough translation here is ‘bhuteshu bhuteshu.’ Shankara via Gambhirananda says: “in all beings, moving and unmoving.” I suppose it could be some kind of saying. It’s difficult to know as a pure amateur. But other translators say: the Self in all beings, or something accordingly. Again, maybe it’s a saying, but it would seem that Atman would be used here if it was meant to be used here. So I’ve latched onto this and say: being of being as a compromise. And the rest is a play between here and there, departing and becoming.

My intent here was to exhibit the Absolute becoming triumphant in the glory of its manifestation, and the gods perceiving this glory as themselves, as I feel the language is actually reflecting. It differs in form from the orthodox reading that Brahman wins a victory for the gods who in turn see it as their own, but differs not in spirit.

I utilized very generic language here, as does the upanishad itself, although it is in direct relationship to the story of the gods in the previous (and succeeding) slokas. Also, I could not help but hear a later echo from the new testament.

I’ve attempted to leave out all the unsaid ‘saids’ or quotes and make as literal as possible. Compare to Sri Aurobindo’s (who appears to be the most literal among the orthodox): “They said to Agni, "O thou that knowest all things born, learn of this thing, what may be this mighty Daemon," and he said, "So be it." But I find no indication of fire saying anything here. As the gods request, thus it is so. But I am unsure whether fire should be capitalized. No for now.

Here begins the all-important inquiry, and thus it is important to emphasize the 'roles' of That and this, as well as to note, despite its (this) approach, That initiates the inquiry. Also note the self-contained response.

A conversation begins between that and this (fire). In the sixth sloka, the word ‘that’ and ‘this’ are carefully chosen.

For the most part, this is word for word as slokas 3-6, but for the substitution of air rather than fire. I have chose ‘overtake’ in sloka 9, very much liking its connotations of speed and dominance, while contrasting the simple (and impossible) request to ‘take’ in sloka 10.

I've tried to stay away from using the names of gods, and rather stay with the natural component: fire for Agni, air for Vayu, and here, sky for Indra; and for Uma, light.

In most translations, if not all, this first sloka of the fourth section, marks the beginning of understanding. It usually is stated simply: through Brahman’s power, the gods have become victorious. And via that statement, Indra now knows Brahman. But there’s an intuition here that what is being said is much more subtle than that, and infinitely greater. Sky (Indra) is told by Light (Uma) that it is through Brahman that Sky and all the others, including Fire and Air, have triumphed with their great perception. And through that sudden understanding that Brahman is the source of its perception, Sky perceives Brahman!

I now realize this translation is the first draft towards a more readable transcreation, which will follow. Accordingly, it is most important at this juncture to remain as faithful as possible to the order of the wording in the Kena, as well as the strict definition of This and That, which guides the logical consistency towards its ultimate destruction in the paradox. In this, these gods, these spirits, are representatives of This, the manifestation, and this must not be overlooked.

This is another one of those slokas in which Shankara dominates the translations. It appears to me that he used the analogy of the winking of an eye to illustrate the actual analogy given in the sloka itself of a flash of lightning lit and then closed. But almost all translations incorporate Shankara’s illustration into the text itself. I can’t see it that way. What I do see is the importance of this understanding: That is seen in a flash of lightning; That is the flash of lightning; That lights the flash of lightning; and the flash of lightning is the sudden nature of enlightenment.

This sloka is tied intimately to the previous one. The movement in the mind originates in the lightning of That resulting in the remembrance of what it is.

The most difficult decision here is in the translation of tadvanam, which appears to literally mean That Forest, and has usually been kept verbatim, untranslated, although Aurobindo goes out on a limb, as he is the only one wont to do, and translates as That Delight. However, I wish to keep the connotation of forest with a sheltering undertone, and so have chosen That Bower, which feels nicely esoteric in an ancient way, yet still firmly rooted in definition. And I have to say, I’m not adverse to the little bow it gives to That.

Sometimes it is fortunate to be ignorant, and I am extremely ignorant when it comes to Sanskrit. The Vedantic translators wish to make this sloka out to be a communication between a teacher and a disciple, and so they split the sloka into different speakers. Even Aurobindo translates as such: “Thou hast said "Speak to me Upanishad"; spoken to thee is Upanishad. Of the Eternal verily is the Upanishad that we have spoken.” Prabhavananda / Manchester are more the playwrights: “A Disciple: Sir, teach me more of the knowledge of Brahman. The Master: I have told you the secret knowledge.” But, again, I do not feel this split, originating from Shankara or before. Rather, I intuit as such: the wisdom is speaking, the wisdom is the speech, and you are the wisdom speaking. There is no splitting Upanishad.

The key word appears to be ‘tasmai’ indicating in front or before. And the key relationships appear to be the previous appearances of fire, air, and sky in association with tapo, damah, and karmeti, indicating the tempering of passion (fire), the restraint of sensibilities (air), and the totality (sky) of action.

And so ends this translation of the Kena Upanishad. My purpose has been to stay as faithful as possible to word placement and overall meaning, and not rely on previous religious interpretation. A transcreation will follow which will attempt to clarify overall meaning within an aesthetic of words and silence.

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